During The Jackson Laboratory’s (JAX) first JAXtaposition event of 2021, leaders shared how JAX® Mice, Clinical and Research Services (JMCRS) is developing new solutions in the preclinical path, helping scientists around the world drive their research forward, and, ultimately, helping patients across the globe.
“Innovation is at the heart of The Jackson Lab's mission to advance human health,” said Auro Nair, Ph.D., who serves as Executive Vice President of JAX and President of JMCRS. “At JAX, we fulfill that mission primarily through two channels. The first being the work done by our outstanding researchers, and secondly through the resources and assets that we create and provide to the global biomedical research community through JAX® Mice, Clinical and Research Services.”
JAX has a portfolio of mouse strains which are grouped into different disease areas including diabetes, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Nair said that given the complexity and diversity of the human population, more precise and translatable models of disease are required moving forward. “We need to migrate on this continuum of product development and ensure that we provide resources which can advance more rapidly drug development and discovery efforts. And as a function of that, we are continuing to innovate our product offerings, our portfolio along that continuum.”
Nair discussed JMCRS’ efforts to develop tools that closely model complex human disease with James Keck, Ph.D., Senior Director of Innovation and Product Development.
Leveraging the complexity of human disease
Keck said one of the most exciting parts of this work is anticipating the drug discovery landscape and where it will be in three, four or five years. “After talking to biopharma companies, collaborators and academic groups, we then consider where these drug discovery efforts will be in the next period of time. We have to anticipate and build those platforms so that they are available when the researchers get to that point in their drug discovery efforts.”
Keck is currently working on putting the human immune system, at various levels, into mice in order to look at the role of the immune system in human disease. In particular, Keck and colleagues are working to put specialized immune cells called peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) into mouse strains to examine the role of the human immune system in responding to cancer.
“The work we're doing on PBMCs is extremely powerful because we can ask a lot of questions of what's happened to the human disease all in the same mouse,” explained Keck. “We can look at the role of the immune system against cancer. We can look at the cytokine release and related toxicities. We can see target engagement. We can look at the immune cells going into the lungs and into the liver. We can actually see organ damage to the liver as well as lungs.”
The researchers can examine the role of the immune system against a tumor in a mouse in six days to two weeks. “Looking ahead, one of the things that's quite exciting about this is we can actually now focus on the idea that if we can take PBMCs from cancer patients, we can do retrospective analysis,” he said. “It's critical for drug discovery and it's critical to the patient. We want to make sure that our patients get the right drugs and don't have the side effects associated with no benefit.”
Keck said that while this complex new platform he’s studying is currently involved with immune therapy, it has possible downstream effects for cardiovascular, infectious disease, and metabolic disease research as well.
A powerhouse of innovation
Keck said there is an exciting opportunity to build a platform to have widespread cancer patient testing of this type. “The idea is that we could go through and screen large numbers of PBMCs and we can address targeted tumors for different therapies. We are trying to address these questions and see how applicable is this platform for drug discovery, but also possible personalized medicine to get to the bedside from a bench,” he said.
He said that having more clinically relevant models, either in vitro or in vivo, to better ask questions about efficacy and safety are critical for moving forward to find better drugs. “We’re never going to stop looking for the better model to help people find better drugs,” he said. As an immediate next step, Keck and his colleagues are looking for partners to help them further characterize their work for clinical relevance.
“Our vision for JMCRS is to be a truly global organization, to be a powerhouse of innovation where we're actually not just providing products and services and solutions, but we also are really defining the problem,” added Nair. “As a function of defining the problem, we are in a very proactive way creating the solutions.”